#1: Lefreque Review - 1st Impressions
Saxophonists, like many musicians, tend to be naturally curious about how to better themselves on their instrument. We put in hours upon hours of practice to improve our skills and to do our best to interpret and perform music, but the knowledge of one's instrument from a technical standpoint is often lacking. Shortly after beginning learning the saxophone I was curious as to how the instrument worked, mechanically. I have taken my saxophones apart many times since then and have also benefitted greatly in my knowledge of the physical workings of the saxophone and how these translate into acoustical phenomenon through conversations with good friend Curt Altarac of MusicMedic. (www.musicmedic.com)
I have been performing on my Buescher Big B baritone for nine years. It took quite a while to get used to it after having played Yamaha instruments up until then. In fact, I didn't really enjoy it very much! The scale was uneven, the keys were loose, there were many problems with the horn. But the sound! The sound is what pulled me in and everything else was secondary. After a while, though, I got tired of that. I needed tight keywork and an even scale. I just wanted my life to be easier playing the instrument so that I could focus on making music. Curt's team at MusicMedic did their usual outstanding job in fixing and improving my horn in 2015 and I've been loving it. But there was still something not quite right.
Perhaps we all share in this phenomenon - you are playing a scale or similar line, especially on a larger saxophone, and it seems like some of the notes emanate from different locations along the column of the body of the instrument. F might sound like it comes from a different location than F#, for example, because of the different configuration of closed and open tone holes required for both notes. More on this concept in a minute.
Let's face it - saxophonists are equipment-freaks. We're always trying the newest reeds, laser-precision CNC-made mouthpieces, or the latest in "ligature tech". There is a myriad of accessories out there just waiting to separate you from your money. I had always thought that the equipment really shouldn't matter as long as it functions well and gives you the ability to fully focus on the sound that you want to produce. If that were true then it should be irrelevant which saxophone, mouthpiece, ligature or reed you use. This, we know, is definitely not the case!
Of all the accessories I thought I would be interested in, I was most skeptical of the Lefreque sound bridges. I had heard of them for some time and while listening to other players trying them out at the World Saxophone Congress in 2015 I was surprised to hear distinct differences in aspects of their sound with and without the bridges. I took the opportunity to try several versions out and was instantly intrigued and pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.
Here I present, hopefully, what I believe to be clear evidence of the influence of the Lefreque bridges. I made three recordings of a two-octave chromatic scale, starting on low D. I made an effort to perform at the same distance to the microphone, in the same tempo and dynamic each time and eliminated vibrato in order to show each tone without ornament or effect.
First take - unadorned scale.
Many of the tones in the scale seem separated from the others and it is clear that the mechanics of the saxophone have a strong influence.
This next take comes after adding the Lefreque bridge from the mouthpiece to the neck, bypassing the cork.
The tone appears to be more expansive in a 3-D, surround-sound kind of way. Each note passes better to the next and dynamic irregularities are smoothed out. My tone, though, still remains true.
This third take comes after adding an additional set of plates over two joints on the crook.
Now the "stereophonic" quality is further enhanced and the scale is further evened out. From the player's perspective, notes begin more quickly and directly and there is less perceived blowing resistance. This was important to me because I was not interested in changing the core sound. I only wanted to make playing easier and to improve my legato.
I tried a third set of plates on an additional joint of the instrument but the perceived difference was negligible. The plates I use are solid silver. I am sure the gold plates would give different results but I could not afford them if I wanted to!
I wholeheartedly recommend Lefreque (www.lefreque.com) to anyone searching for the same things I was. They won't change your sound, but they make playing your instrument more enjoyable!